I arrived in Marrakesh straight from a 6 month stint in Chile and Brazil, and my brain froze up as I searched for the French word for “good afternoon”. I kept finding myself saying “licença” instead of “pardon” while making my way through the throngs of people in the market and in the COP space. Thankfully, I didn’t have to miss South America too much, and spent my first two days in side events presented by delegates from all across Latin America, presented in English and Spanish, as I learned how various countries in the region were reacting to climate change and working to implement the Paris Agreement.
Latin America has incredible potential and willingness to work on fighting climate change, but they face difficulty from the involvement of parties with clear conflicts of interest. The Latin America and Caribbean region has enough renewable energy potential to cover 22 times its energy demand by 2025. But Oil & Gas interests in countries like Mexico, Venezuela and Bolivia are lobbying policy-makers to expand fossil fuel use, and actively working against divestment.
Latin America has much at stake if they do not take action now on climate change. Between the island nations in the Caribbean and the glaciers of Patagonia, rising temperatures and sea levels will have disastrous effects. Some say the issue isn’t climate change itself, it’s the consequences of climate change, such as habitat loss and reduced biodiversity. Latin America has various biodiversity hotspots and species that do not exist in any other part of the world. Amphibians throughout Central America have been annihilated by climate change and the spread of a particular fungi. Trees in the Peruvian Amazon are losing ground as they move up the mountains into the only habitats remaining that are cool enough to support their narrow temperature range. Party delegates and civil society representatives from the countries below presented a bit about the issues specifically affecting their countries and their goals for civil society as well as goals lined up in their NDCs for addressing climate change.
Mexico: Mexico currently sources 91% of its energy from fossil fuels, and is having a really tough time diverting to renewables because of the prominence of the fossil fuel industry in its economy. Yet, Mexico is feeling pressured to act on climate change because as much as $1.4 billion of losses have been caused by climate change from 2000-2012, and 65% of the population has been negatively impacted by climate change. Last year, we saw Category 5 Hurricane Patricia hit the Baja California/ Puerta Vallarta region; this hurricane was influenced by El Nino conditions and increasing global temperature averages. Mexico hopes to work on a clean energy transition, with hopes to do so through a re-working of the carbon tax program, to encompass natural gas. It also needs to reduce reliance on hydroelectric, nuclear, and “efficient coal” as clean energy sources, and focus on truly zero carbon energy sources.
Costa Rica: Costa Rica is a frontrunner within Central America on many of the UN’s Sustainable Development goals. They are one of 2 countries in the region that has legislation on the national level on climate change. Their goal is to increase public awareness on climate change, through education initiatives and improved information accessibility by non-state actors. They also aspire to increase renewable energy use to 90% as a means of economic development.(3)
El Salvador: El Salvador also wishes to increase public awareness and transparency and participation within their citizens for climate policy. They are working on changing their educational laws to include information on mitigation and adaptation to climate change, as a large part of their NDC. This is expected to be implemented through NGO and community participation.(3)
Colombia: Through the “Reforma Tributaria” legislature that was passed this past year, Colombia created a carbon tax system. 78% of 2015 emissions were related to land use change and aquaculture farms, meaning those are the two biggest sectors to tackle within climate change issues. Their goal is to increase investment of taxpayer money in education, healthcare and disaster awareness. (5)
Ecuador: Ecuador formed part of a side event on corporate conflicts of interest in the Paris Agreement discussions, they were especially worried about the power of corporate lobbies in policy creation.
“If there are 100 entities in the world, only 30% are governmental, and 60% are business/industry”. Corporate-funded research that works to disprove climate science is dangerous for vulnerable communities who will be negatively impacted by a lack of action on climate change. Whole countries are being put in danger to protect private interests. Ecuador has confidence that we can remove the money from climate politics, just as we have done before on a global scale with the tobacco industry. (1)
Peru: Peru has the 10th largest forest cover in the world, and 70% of the country is part of the Amazon basin, so deforestation is a big issues. They want to look broadly at climate change and policy to create long-term solutions. Some suggestions included re-organizing agricultural and business models to use Triple-bottom-line ethics.(4)
Argentina: In the past few years, Argentina has created a new cabinet position on the environment, bringing together many of the environmental programs from other ministries into one head.(2)
Chile: At first, it seemed like maybe Chile wasn’t even represented in the COP space, but I found an interesting side event to attend on Human Rights and Gender Equality in the Implementation of the Paris Agreement that featured President Michelle Bachelet as the keynote speaker. This past July I spent a week working with Colombian and Ecuadorian migrants in settlements in the outskirts of the Chilean city of Antofagasta, and I saw how human rights were already being affected by resource scarcity and privatization of water rights.
What’s more, Chile is exceptionally vulnerable to climate change with its 4000 km of coastline. Bachelet stated that, “the calamities of climate change are affecting rights”. She was president during the earthquake and tsunami that occurred on February 27th, 2010, devastating communities, as well as during 2015’s flooding and mudslides in the Atacama desert- the driest desert in the world. Last year, I stood waist deep in mud laced with mining tailings near Copiapo and shoveled out the buried remains of people’s livelihoods. Human rights in inexplicably linked with climate change, and Bachelet knows it.
Her administration’s mid-century plan includes 70% of energy sourced from renewables by 2050, and beyond that limiting the percent that is dependent on hydropower (currently their largest renewable source in use) for the methane emissions and ecosystem disruption. They are also working on decoupling greenhouse gas emissions from GDP growth to increase efficiency. Finally, Bachelet said that they were leading the region in the push for greater information accessibility, participation by civil society, and justice for all people. They strive to uphold the fundamental values of inclusion and equality- the columns that support a democratic society.(7)
Overall, Latin American countries recognize that they have a lot to lose if we don’t take action on climate change. While each of the delegations and civil society representatives expressed much interest in working towards the goal of limiting global average temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celcius, special interests including businesses and industry have been doing their best to prevent regulations on their activities. Hopefully the will of the people can overcome the corporate interests and protect some of the greatest ecosystems in the world.
Delegate, COP 22
Care About Climate
Above content is derived from statements made at the following COP 22 Speakers and Side Events:
1Walter Schuldt. “Addressing Conflicts of Interests in the Paris Agreement Implementation”. COP 22, Ecuador Permanent Delegation to the UN. 15 Nov. 2016.
2Carlos Bruno Gentia. “Implementing NDCs in Developing Countries with Climate Finance.”COP 22. 14 Nov. 2016.
3Andrea Meza, Adrian Martinez. “Understanding Latin American Perspectives: NDCs.” COP22, La Ruta del Clima. 14 Nov. 2016
4Karina Pinasco Vela. “Implementing NDCs in Developing Countries with Climate Finance.”COP 22. Amazónicas para la Amazona. 14 Nov. 2016.
5Silvia Calderon. ““Implementing NDCs in Developing Countries with Climate Finance.”COP 22. Colombian Delegation to the UN. 14 Nov. 2016.
6Ana Vargas. Understanding Latin American Perspectives: NDCs.” COP22, CEMDA. 14 Nov. 2016
7President Michelle Bachelet. “Human Rights and Gender Equity in the Implementation of the Paris Agreement. COP22. The Republic of Chile. 15 Nov.